Meet the Judges


Chris Pence & Mark Warren, Craft


Chris Pence and Mark Warren are the co-founders of Haand in Burlington. Chris, who had been a potter since high school, went on to study business and accounting in college, but continued to pursue his love of pottery. Mark attended the Penland School of Craft in Spruce Pine on a two-year fellowship after college, where he was introduced to ceramics and slip casting. In 2012, they took the opportunity to work together and Haand was born. Bridging the past and future with expert craftsmanship, they believe in making things by hand in the 21st century. “Haand” is an archaic Norwegian word for “hand” that dates back many centuries.

Roy Underhill, Craft

The Woodwright’s School

Roy Underhill is the host and creator of the television series The Woodwright’s Shop, one of the longest-running programs in television history. He finds as much art in the process of creation as he does in the final products and strives to recover the beauty and truth in the old ways of workmanship. During his tenure as a master craftsman at Colonial Williamsburg, he worked alongside many of America’s foremost artisans recreating the material and working culture of the 18th century. Roy holds degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, is the author of eight books, and teaches handcraftsmanship at his Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro.

Inez Ribustello, Drink

Tarboro Brewing Company

Inez Ribustello attended the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She eventually became beverage director at the World Trade Center restaurant Windows on the World. September 11, 2001, greatly impacted Inez. She moved back to her hometown of Tarboro, where she and her husband own Tarboro Brewing Company and On the Square, which holds Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. Inez placed second runner-up in 2009’s Best Sommelier in America competition. She is a member of the Institute of Culinary Education’s Alumni Hall of Achievement and is a graduate of the Court of Master Sommelier’s Advanced Exam.

Sean Umstead, Drink

Kingfisher Cocktail Bar

Sean Umstead is one of the creative forces behind Kingfisher Cocktail Bar, QueenBurger, and Queeny’s in Durham. Drawing inspiration from North Carolina’s farms, Kingfisher Cocktail Bar offers a rare, year-long view into each season through innovative ground-to-glass cocktails. Sean has been recognized as one of North Carolina’s most imaginative bar experts and was named an “Imbibe 75” mixologist by Imbibe magazine. Kingfisher Cocktail Bar was named one of the 10 Best New Cocktail Bars of 2019 by VinePair and was nominated as a Regional Top 10 Honoree in Tales of the Cocktail’s 2020 Spirited Awards.

Cheetie Kumar, Food


Cheetie Kumar is an Indian-born, Bronx-raised Southerner, musician, and chef. She cooks multi-cultural menus at her beloved restaurant, Garland, in Raleigh, where she blends flavors of South Asia and the surrounding regions with the bounty of local North Carolina agriculture. Cheetie’s cooking is refined and thoughtful, filled with equal parts imagination and rebellion. It is unassumingly delicious and filled with soul. She is a six-time James Beard Award Semifinalist and was a Nominated Finalist for “Best Chef: Southeast” in 2020 and 2022. She has been profiled in many national publications and currently serves on the board of the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

Max Trujillo & Matthew Weiss, Food

NC F&B Podcast

Max Trujillo and Matthew Weiss are hospitality industry veterans and co-creators of the NC F&B Podcast. Max was a sommelier, restauranteur, and wine distributor in Los Angeles. Matthew is a certified sommelier from New York, where he imported some of the finest wines in the world for restaurants and bars. Now in Raleigh, Max is a restaurant general manager and wine director, and Matthew is a wine distributor. In their podcast, they go behind the scenes of North Carolina’s burgeoning food and beverage culture with guests including local chefs, sommeliers, distillers, farmers, brewers, and everyone in between.

Kara Cox, Home & Garden

Kara Cox Interiors

Kara Cox is an interior designer in Greensboro. Growing up in the heart of the furniture industry, Kara learned to appreciate quality craftsmanship, the tradition of furniture making, and the importance of supporting local artisans. She strives to create lasting client relationships that enable her to design beautiful spaces that are fresh, tailored, and timeless. Kara’s work has been featured in national publications and design blogs. She has served as a Style Spotter for High Point Furniture Market, has partnered with industry insiders at furniture and decor companies from Alden Parkes to Uttermost, and recently launched her first licensed collection of kitchen and bath designs with Thompson Traders.

Danielle & Robb Stewart, Home & Garden

The Mustard Seed Market

Danielle and Robb Stewart are the owners of The Mustard Seed Market in Blowing Rock. Danielle has a degree in interior design from the Art Institute of Philadelphia and Atlanta. Robb graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in agriculture and business. The Stewarts have dedicated more than 30 years to establishing relationships with hand-picked growers to provide high-quality, beautiful, and unique cultivars from all over the nation. They also offer one-of-a-kind residential and commercial landscape design and installation services that can transform any space into the garden setting of your dreams.

Victor Lytvinenko, Style

Raleigh Denim Workshop

Victor Lytvinenko started Raleigh Denim Workshop with his wife, Sarah, in 2007. Using techniques they learned from former denim factory workers, patternmakers, and mechanics across North Carolina, the self-proclaimed “non-automated jeansmiths” create limited-edition American denim on vintage sewing machines. Each pair of denim includes a printed X-ray of the hip joint on the inside pocket, a hand-stamped edition number on the leather patch, and the maker’s signature. In addition to Raleigh Denim Workshop’s own retail location, The Curatory, the apparel is sold at select boutiques across the United States, London, Amsterdam, and Tokyo. Victor was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2013.

Viola Spells, Style


Viola Spells is the owner of ZenobiaStudio in Asheville’s River Arts District. After a career as a children’s and regional librarian, Viola received her B.F.A. in metalsmithing and jewelry from East Tennessee University. Using crochet wire as a medium, her statement necklaces are made with crystals, gemstones, formed metal, or sculptural balls made of crochet wire. While each piece of jewelry tells a different story, she believes all reflect how women weave materials and social fibers to cultivate connections and give their families colorful and harmonious lives. Viola also creates narrative jewelry primarily made of mixed metals with text.